Northern schools were the most disrupted by Covid, with a third of teachers diagnosed with the virus in mid-October living in the north-west, a report has revealed.
This meant that at one point 710 teachers were absent from the region's schools, leading to calls today for next year's exams to be ditched in favour of coursework so northern pupils do not fall behind their southern counterparts.
Ministers have rejected the demands and said exams will go ahead in 2021 because they are 'the fairest way' of judging performance.
Data has revealed that northern schools were hid harder by Covid than those in the south. File photo
Analysis by the North West Association of the Directors of Children's Services, shared with the BBC, reveals the impact of Covid on northern schools since they went back in September.
In mid-October, more than 40% of schools in Bury, Knowsley, Liverpool and Manchester had confirmed cases.
Meanwhile, 710 of teachers had a positive test on October 16 - which was 35% of the total of confirmed cases among teachers across England on that day.
Schools in the North also had lower attendance figures, the new data reveals.
In some northern areas just 61% of pupils had returned to the classroom, whereas those in the South were nearer to the national average of 95%.
The Northern Powerhouse, a government-backed project to redress the north-south imbalance, said: 'We appreciate the government's desire to try and keep things as normal as possible, but this is now unrealistic in many northern communities.
'We urge the government to commit to continuous assessment as it is a fairer alternative to the proposed examination plan.'
A Department for Education spokesman said: 'Exams are the fairest way of judging a student's performance, which is why they will go ahead next year, underpinned by contingency measures developed in partnership with the sector.
'Over the coming weeks we will jointly identify any risks to exams and the measures needed to address potential disruption, with fairness for students continuing to be our priority.'
It came as Boris Johnson came under pressure from scores of Conservative MPs to detail a 'road-map out of lockdown' as more people in England come under the toughest coronavirus restrictions.
The Prime Minister has been warned by a group of 50 Tory backbenchers representing northern constituencies that the pandemic is threatening his election pledge to 'level-up' the country.
More than eight million people in England - predominantly in the North - will be under the most stringent Covid-19 restrictions by the end of the week, with Warrington the latest area to be placed in Tier 3.
The measures - which came into force in the early hours of Tuesday - mean pubs and bars in the Cheshire town must close unless they serve substantial meals.
Households are also banned from mixing indoors or in private gardens and beer gardens, while betting shops, adult gaming centres, casinos and soft play centres have been shut.
Nottingham and the boroughs of Broxtowe, Gedling and Rushcliffe will move into Tier 3 on Thursday, with details expected to be set out later on Tuesday.
The two areas will join the Liverpool City Region, Greater Manchester, Lancashire and South Yorkshire in Tier 3, placing 8.2 million people in England under the toughest restrictions.
Analysis by the PA news agency shows the rate of coronavirus cases in Nottingham fell from 726.6 in the seven days to October 15 to 464.4 in the week to October 22, with 1,546 new cases.
The city had the highest Covid-19 rate in the country in the seven days to October 15, but was 22nd on a list of local authority areas by rate of new cases in the seven days to October 22.
In Warrington, however, cases rose from 343.3 to 395.2 per 100,000 people over the same period, with 830 new cases.
The North-South divide in the tier system has sparked concern among Tory MPs, with the newly-formed Northern Research Group writing to the Prime Minister to express their fears.
The group - led by former northern powerhouse minister Jake Berry - urged Mr Johnson to set out a 'clear road-map' out of lockdown restrictions.
Mr Berry said: 'The virus has exposed in sharp relief the deep structural and systemic disadvantage faced by our communities and it threatens to continue to increase the disparity between the North and South still further.
'Our constituents have been some of the hardest hit by this virus with many losing jobs, businesses, and livelihoods.
'Never has there been a more pertinent and urgent political and economic case to support people living in the North.
'However, instead of moving forwards on our shared ambitions, the cost of Covid and the virus itself threatens to send the North into reverse.'
A Number 10 spokesman said: 'We are absolutely committed to levelling up across the country and building back better after coronavirus.
'We stood at the last election on a solemn promise that we would improve people's lives, and although the pandemic has meant 2020 is not the year we all hoped it would be, our ambitions for the country are unchanged.'
Some 40 Conservative MPs have publicly signed the letter, while a further 14 have had their names redacted.